Russia says it has conducted another successful test launch of a new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile. Credit: Russian Federation.

The Zircon hypersonic cruise missile — the weapon Russian President Vladimir Putin boldly called “invincible” — was successfully tested on July 19, the Russian Defense Ministry announced.

Also called the Tsirkon, the weapon was fired from the Admiral Gorshkov frigate, hitting a ground target off the coast of the Barents Sea, Aerotime Hub reported.

Officials said the 3M22 Zircon traveled at over 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached a top speed of nearly Mach 7 (8,643 km/h or 5,370 mph).

“According to live monitoring data, the Zircon missile successfully hit a target directly at a range of over 350 kilometers,” the Ministry said in a statement quoted by Interfax. “During the test, the tactical and technical characteristics were confirmed.”

The Kremlin has made modernizing the country’s arsenals a top priority amid the tensions with the West that followed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Footage distributed by the defense ministry (attached below) showed the Admiral Gorshkov warship launching the cruise missile at a target on the Barents Sea coast.

The Zircon has a two-stage propellant system that uses a solid-fuel propellant to bring it up to speed, then is powered by a scramjet combustion engine, The National Interest reported. 

Traveling in the Mach 7+ range generates so much kinetic energy that even a concrete-filled warhead would create a massive explosion if it hit the ground — or a massive hole in an aircraft carrier. 

Given the shape of the missile and comparative weight to the P-800, which it is based on, it’s probably safe to assume the Zircon has a warhead of 200 kilograms or less.

While the Zircon is not interceptable by any known means, it is unlikely to be able to take out more hardened NATO installations due to its small warhead.

The seeker and guidance package of the Zircon is also practically unknown. While it likely uses radar homing of some variety, the accuracy of the missile is unknown.

Putin revealed the development of the new weapon in a state of the nation address in February 2019, saying it could hit targets at sea and on land with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a speed of Mach 9, TheDefensePost reported.

The defense ministry has said it plans to equip both warships and submarines with the Zircon.

The missile has undergone several recent tests and in October last year Putin described one of the test firings as a “great event not just in the life of our armed forces but for all of Russia.”

NATO responded to Monday’s test with a statement that claimed Russia’s missile development “create a greater risk of escalation and miscalculation,” CTV News reported.

“Russia’s new hypersonic missiles are highly destabilizing and pose significant risks to security and stability across the Euro-Atlantic area,” the statement said.

Footage distributed by the defense ministry showed the Admiral Gorshkov warship launching the cruise missile at a target on the Barents Sea coast. Credit: Russian Federation.

“NATO allies are committed to respond in a measured way to Russia’s growing array of conventional and nuclear-capable missiles,” the alliance said.

“We will not mirror what Russia does, but we will maintain credible deterrence and defense, to protect our nations.”

Russia has boasted of developing several weapons that circumvent existing defense systems, including the Sarmat intercontinental missiles and Burevestnik cruise missiles, TheDefensePost reported.

Western experts have linked a deadly blast at a test site in northern Russia in 2019 — which caused a sharp spike in local radiation levels — to the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, revealed by Putin in 2018.

The Russian Defense Ministry is also testing a nuclear-capable air-launched hypersonic missile called the Kinzhal.

In late June 2021, Russian MiG-31K fighter jets that can be equipped with Kinzhal missiles were deployed at Khmeimim airbase, in Syria.

Sources: Aerotime Hub, TheDefensePost, CTV News, The Associated Press, The National Interest